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Trevor Manuel is my hero

Trevor Manuel was an anti-apartheid activist and community organizer, and detained several times under the old South African regime. Mandela appointed him as minister of trade and industry, and within two years switched him to minister of finance — a job he would hold for more than a decade. Manuel was remarkably successful, kept financial markets calm, and has always been a voice of reason. It appeared he would leave government when Mbeki was forced out, but has stayed on under Zuma as minister of planning.

His has been a stunning career, and luckily for South Africa, he has not yet been snatched up by a high-paying investment bank or international organization. Instead, as reported in the Mail and Guardian yesterday, he continues to speak his mind to hypocrisy and destructive discourse. As I’ve written about a few times before, the South African state has recently made several moves to control the flow of information in very undemocratic ways. In a few snippets pasted below from a meeting with South African newspaper editors, Manuel challenges those around him to be  more modest in their view of power, and to engage more with those from other perspectives

The idea that we have now been elected to supplant all leadership must be wrong in every aspect of the word… We need a different quality of discourse. We need to raise the level of interaction … and it is not a venture that is possible without the press actively applying its mind…How do we find each other? Because if we don’t, I think that there is a vacuum that lays the basis for creating a society that becomes increasingly less informed about itself.

Hard to disagree with any of that. But in the current political discourse, such verbiage has been pretty rare.

About Evan Lieberman

I am a Professor of Political Science at MIT, and I conduct research, write, and teach about development, ethnic politics, and research methods.

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